As much as I hated to see it, the last NHL lockout made sense to me. The gap between haves and the have-nots was growing at a ridiculous rate, and truth be told, I was glad to see the NHL take action before it got too far out of control like it has in Major League Baseball. The results of that lockout speak for themselves. Parity has returned to the league and ultimately, I think the league is better because of it.
This one, however, doesn't make any sense to me. I won't pretend to understand all the ins and outs of what each side wants, and quite frankly, I don't care. The league has grown in popularity in the states and made substantial strides in several key markets. No matter what the ultimate outcome, I can see no way that the league as a whole will be better when this situation has been resolved.
But I'm not writing this blog to critique the merits of the lockout. I'm not writing to condemn Gary Bettman or rip Donald Fehr. I'm not even writing this to vent my frustrations with the NHL or NHLPA.
I love hockey. I was never good enough to play at any real competitive level, but even now as I near 30, I suit up every chance I get to play the greatest game in the world. And as much as I love to play, I'm an even bigger fan and student of the game. I've been a youth hockey coach, I've refereed and I'm a Penguins season ticket holder.
While the commissioner, the owners and the players' association certainly own their part in the lockout, I believe a big reason why the lockout remains in effect is...me (and others like me).
Part of me wishes I could tell you that this lockout has turned me against the NHL brand and that when play resumes (whenever that may be), I won't be going back. But that would be a lie. If I wake tomorrow morning and the league announces that the season is going to start tomorrow night, I'd be calling off of work and be in my seats in a heartbeat. My love for the game is unconditional; I know it...and so does the NHL. Whether it's one more day or one hundred, when it's decided that it's time to drop the puck, I'll be the first in line.
I do believe that some of the fringe fans that hockey has gained over the past few years may walk away for awhile and the momentum the NHL has built since the last work stoppage has been halted, but it's not irreparable. Die hard fans like me will always return to the game. We'll continue to go to the games, support our favorite teams and players, bring our friends and family into the fold, and over time, we'll rebuild what this lockout has broken down.
I've done my share of whining and complaining about the greed behind this latest lockout and lack of respect and dedication shown to the true fans of hockey by the league, it's owners and the players' association. But I can't in good conscience ignore the role that I and other like-minded fans play in this as well. The players make the league worth watching, but we make it profitable. And as long as there are people like me willing to pay to be a part of the game no matter what actions the NHL takes to deter us from doing so, I fear this situation will continue to repeat itself.
I'm addicted to hockey. I know it and more importantly, the NHL knows it. And unless this changes, the league will continue to exploit my addiction for their gain.
And that is why I am part of the problem.